The recent diplomatic standoff between Pakistan and India triggered by the revocation of article 370 and 35-A in the Indian Constitution doing away with the ‘special status’ of Jammu and Kashmir and the lockdown of the Muslim majority state by an unprecedented long curfew of over 50 days and the disconnection of all means of communication with the outside world and deployment of over 900,000 soldiers in the valley, has confronted the people of Pakistan as well as the liberal, secular and democratic segments of the Indian population, civil society and international human rights organizations with grave concern.
The people of Pakistan have a spiritual attachment with their Kashmiri brethren and are consumed by a passionate empathy and strong urge to do something worthwhile for them at this critical juncture of their existence. This feeling of bonding with Kashmiris has been there for the past seven decades. It becomes more pronounced in moments of crisis. Therefore, there is a mounting pressure on Pakistani leadership that reflects a genuine popular anger against the pathetic silence of the international community, and a misplaced disappointment with the inability of their leaders and diplomatic corps in swishing their magic wand to bring the Kashmir issue on the forefront of the world agenda.
We wish the world to be fountain of peace, security, equality, justice and equity. This idealist view of the world is very attractive and deceptive as well. The actual world we live in as nations is selfish, competitive and driven by contrasting and conflicting political, ideological, economic and strategic nationalist interests increasingly leading to alliances and regional groupings, rivalries, conflicts and wars. The size of markets, largess of purses and prospects of commercial exchanges play more dominant role in strategizing their priorities by nations today than ideological affiliations of yesteryears. The strategic locations of states come to the fore only when considered indispensible by others to win a war, or stem an ideological conflict. There aren’t free lunches in this world. The interstate relations are based on the maxim of give and take. The wise foreign policy executives always keep an eye on the emerging challenges and opportunities. They strive to convert challenges into opportunities to serve their national interests.
With this background in view, we examine the foreign policy objectives of Pakistan and India. Both countries took birth on the same day and from the same womb – known to the majority Hindus as Bharat Mata and the minority Muslims as Hindustan – their birth country since centuries. The colonial power played these two communities against each other to strengthen its sway over this vast Sub-continent. The divide on the basis of two nations living in the same land could not be bridged by their leaders. Their parallel struggle for free dominions was also intense and bitter leading to a bloody parting of ways. The Jammu and Kashmir issue remains the unfinished agenda of this bloody Partition. After the conflict of 1947, the issue was taken to the UN Security council by no less a leader than Prime Minister Nehru accepting the world body’s resolutions on the right of Kashmiris for self determination under UN auspices.
After the Second World War, the raging cold war made it almost impossible for small nations to remain impartial. While as a free nation, India under the leadership of liberal and socialist Jawaharlal Nehru switched closer to the Soviet bloc with ambitious hegemonic designs in South and South East Asia, Pakistan – a relatively small, weak and diffident country with 800-pound gorilla neighbor breathing down its neck – allied itself in a security-centric policy with the US-led Western bloc and the Muslim world. Notwithstanding their close alliance with the Soviet Union, Indian leaders looked at China and Pakistan as countervails to their dominance in Asia. It had a short border war with China in 1962. Pakistan could have dealt a blow to it by opening a front from Kashmir. But it did not do so because of an assurance to General Ayub Khan by President John F. Kennedy for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. The US helped India in this war more than the Soviets because of its antipathy towards China.
Having been disappointed with the US alliance in the 1965 war, Pakistan strengthened its relation with China to the displeasure of USA. The two countries countervailed the Indian hegemonic designs in the region. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, India changed its policy coming closer to the USA while Pakistan, owing to the myopic policies of dictator Zia ul Haq, remained embroiled in the chaotic security conditions in Afghanistan. Since China was already leapfrogging as an economic superpower to the consternation of its neighbors and creating a specter of a formidable challenge to the US dominance at least in the economic domain, this brought into play the American China-containment policy in South and South East Asia. India agreed to play fiddle to the US policy to contain China by joining the quadrilateral naval alliance of USA along with Vietnam, Japan and Australia. The sheer size of its market for trade and commerce and its growing economy helped it acquire a prominent position in the prosperous world with its membership of G-8 and BRICS.
Pakistan had hardly come out of the Afghanistan problem when the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers of New York took place hurting the pride and power of the USA. Unfortunately, we had a General in power looking desperately for legitimacy of his unconstitutional rule. The 9/11 came to him as God-send opportunity to become the darling of the US-led Western world overnight. Our involvement in the second or the third Afghan war was catastrophic breeding violence, militant groups, terrorism, and loss of life. The war in Afghanistan survived General Musharraf and continued to hold hostage our foreign and security policies through the two previous civilian rules to the first year of the third one under Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The overthrow of Taliban afforded an opportunity to India to strengthen its presence in that country. It did not only hugely invest in the infrastructure of Afghanistan but indulged in subversive activities to destabilize Pakistan aiding Balochistan Liberation Army and sending its intelligence agents into the province with the connivance of the Afghan leaders. The long proxy sectarian war of some Muslim countries in Pakistan – one could trace back into the beginning of Zia era and continuing from 1980 into the recent years, adversely impacted our relations with our western neighbor that was exploited by India making huge investments in building a seaport just 70 kilometers away from Gawadar to have access to Central Asia and to undermine the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). These years, our country was unfortunately having no foreign Minister and our leadership took pride in socializing with Narendra Modi.
Alliances and the strategic and financial benefits accruing from them are transitional and time-bound. Close relationship with a powerful state always negatively impacts the freedom of policy and maneuver of small states. This is what Pakistan has faced in its alliance with the USA. The long war in Afghanistan, the Arab-Persian rivalry and the USA involvement in the region, in the final analysis, has proved to be highly damaging to our national interests. It is high time that we pursue vigorously our changed policy of having a normal working relationship with USA, mending bilateral relations with our neighbors and moving closer to China, Russia, Turkey and other important Muslim countries keeping away from regional conflicts and wars.
We should strive to dispel the wrong perceptions created about the country by its adversaries as being centre of radical Muslims and religious militants and the breeding place for terrorism. These perceptions have damaged us as a nation more than any weakness of our diplomatic corps. We should also concentrate on the rehabilitation of the economy of the country. Military power without economic viability is no guarantee to the security of any state. The example of Soviet Union is before us.
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